New Mexico Hunt Application Strategy – Basics

For the beginner hunter, and even the experienced, the hunt application and subsequent draw can be one of the most difficult, frustrating and mysterious aspects of hunting. My first experience with the application/draw was watching and listening to my college roommates try to understand what the odds of certain hunts were in New Mexico. There was confusion. There was arguing. With my schooling background and obsession of numbers I thought, why not just write some code and simulate it. So I did. Obviously, this isn’t everyone’s forte, but that is the reason there are websites dedicated to finding these numbers. Full disclosure, I’d like to do something similar, but with the option of getting single state odds rather than the whole lot. For the time being, I am only able to supply these odds for New Mexico.

Marshall and Josh doing some final adjustments before a long moonlit hike out. The rewards of a successful elk hunt, albeit not in New Mexico.

This post is for the hunter looking to put into hunts in states like New Mexico and Idaho that have standard random draws. Although, the general concept is applicable to other states that have employed point systems (i.e. Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Montana). I am going to focus on New Mexico, because that is what I know best and what I have simulated draw odds for. These New Mexico hunting odds are available for purchase here. I should also admit I am no expert hunter, but I do love statistics and really diving into the fine details of such.

Here, I will start with a discussion on putting in for hunts that will bring happiness to you with an emphasis on draw odds. I am going to use myself as the example. A novice hunter who is interested in gaining hunting experience rather than looking for the largest animal they have ever seen. I will approach the hunt put-in as giving myself the best opportunity to hunt, not necessarily the best rate of hunt success (hunt success = harvesting an animal). All that said, the same structure will work for the hunter looking for high demand or quality hunts. They will just have a lower draw rate. The post ends with 5 tips that I use when filling out my application.

First, we should quickly discuss how the New Mexico hunt entry works. There are many separate hunts available to put in for, elk, deer, archery, rifle, etc. Each individual hunt has a certain number of tags available, but once the tag quota has been reached, no more tags are issued for that hunt. Of these tags, a maximum of 6% can go to non-residents and maximum of 10% can go to outfitters. However, there is no minimum number that must be met for non-residents and outfitters. Residents have no limitations, except for special hunts (i.e. mobility impaired, youth). A hunter can choose 3 separate hunts to put in for. Commonly known as their first choice, second choice and third choice. During the hunt draw process, hunters are randomly drawn, and their entries are checked for availability in order. The first hunt is checked. If tags are available for that hunt, then they are awarded a tag. If not, the second choice is checked in the same manner and then the third. If the third choice is also full, the entrant’s 4th choice is checked, but this is for population management and is not driven by hunting odds, so we will not be touching that subject here.

Let’s define “draw odds” with a little more explanation. At first glance this sounds like the probability of drawing a hunt. It is, but the caveat is this changes depending on which choice you put that hunt in. Rather, I like to think of the draw odd as the point in the draw where the specific hunt’s tag quota is filled. For example, if 77,000 people put in for New Mexico elk hunts (this is how many applied in 2018). A draw odd of 50% would mean that at the 38,500 random draw the tag quota would be filled. A 1% draw odd would mean the tag is filled at the 770 random draw, so to draw that tag you would have to be one of the first 770 people to be drawn. The ELK-1-700 tag? You’d have to be one of the first 100 drawn to have a chance! When you start to fill your application, remember the order of the hunt choice and draw odds has impact on your chances of a destination vacation in the fall.

The closest thing I saw to an elk during my first New Mexico elk hunt. Although conditions weren’t perfect, my friends and I will always remember this trip.

Let’s take six hunts for example, hunt A, B, C, D, E and F. A is a high demand unit with a 1% draw odd. B is a low demand unit in tough country but has a draw odd of 70%. C has a draw odd of 20%. D is a cow hunt with a draw odd of 50% with above average harvest success. E has a draw rate of 21%. F is another high demand unit with a 10% draw odd. For example, lets imagine an applicant put in for hunts A, D and B, in that order. This would give them a 1% chance at their first choice, a 49% chance at their second choice and a 20% chance of drawing their third choice. Ultimately, a 70% chance of drawing a hunt, which is driven by hunt B. For the hunter looking to maximize their hunting opportunity, like me, they should put in for hunt B as their third choice as to maximize their chances at drawing. Because your opportunity to hunt is driven by these odds, it is very important to understand and know the probability of drawing for the hunts you are applying for. It isn’t as easy as number of tags divided by number of applicants.

Here are 5 things you should make sure to pay attention to for your hunt application:

Make sure your hunt preference order (first choice, second choice and third choice) ascends in draw odds. If your first choice has a draw odd greater than your second and third, you’ve basically only put in for your first choice, because the second and third choice hunts will have met their tag quota before the first choice. Try to find hunts that suit your needs, but make sure they are improving your chances of hunting rather than only taking up slots in your application lineup. Try to think of this as shorting yourself. When you go through the numbers, it is shocking how many people only put in for one or two hunts! There is ZERO gain from limiting your application to less than three choices.

Try to avoid hunts with similar draw odds. Let’s take hunts C and E from earlier as examples for this discussion. Hunt C has draw odds of 20% and hunt E has 21% draw odds. If you were to put your first choice as C and your second as E, you would have a 21% chance of drawing a tag. However, your odds of drawing hunt C are 20% whereas the chance of drawing hunt E is only 1%. Try to find a hunt that opens this gap a little more while suiting your hunting needs.

Know that the easier to draw hunts are that way for a reason. My first elk hunt was in one of the easier spots to draw. We didn’t see an elk the entire trip. However, now that I’ve gained the experience from that hunt, I am a better hunter and as a result have had success in more recent hunts.

Don’t just put in for high demand/quality elk hunts. Allow yourself to go hunting more than once every 5 to 10 years. The odds of pulling the primo Gila rifle bull elk hunt (ELK-1-240) is less than 4%. That’s once every 25 years! Lowering your standards just a little can get you out there more often.

Keep an open mind. Yes, people shoot trophy animals every year. Plenty of people don’t and are still just as happy. Make sure you are approaching your hunt application to suit your needs and reach your goals. If that is a trophy animal, great. If that is a doe/cow, great. There are plenty of opportunities in those easier draw hunts. You just might have to work a little harder as a result. All that said, you wouldn’t find me complaining about a Gila hunt.

The links below are to content from Randy Newberg that I found useful. If you don’t follow Randy, you should. He is one of the more entertaining, honest hunters out there. I’ve even had the airport opportunity to meet him.

Basics of how western state hunting draws work. A quick overview of the drawing process for western states.

New Mexico specifics. In this video Randy introduces gohunt, a well-run website that provides hunting draw odds and other information to subscribers at the cost of an annual membership. These hunt draw odds are similar to what is available for purchase on our site. However, for the time being we are only offering hunting odds for New Mexico.

Further information on the New Mexico hunting application and draw process can be found at New Mexico Game and Fish.

I hope you find these tips useful and fun. Ask any questions you have in the comment section below.

Best of luck in your applications,


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